By Kathy Finn
NEW ORLEANS (Reuters) - Two New Orleans police officers went on trial on Tuesday, accused of lying about the 2005 shotgun death of a civilian killed in the chaotic aftermath of Hurricane Katrina.
Federal prosecutors have charged the officers, Ronald Mitchell and Ray Jones, with giving false testimony during a federal civil lawsuit related to the death of 45-year-old Danny Brumfield in September 2005.
The case is the latest to stem from a U.S. Justice Department probe into possible police misconduct in the immediate aftermath of Katrina, when many parts of the city remained under several feet of water.
A federal jury over the summer convicted five local police officers of multiple civil rights violations in connection with the fatal shooting of two civilians on the Danziger Bridge, the wounding of four others and a subsequent cover-up.
In the current case, the two officers each face a 20-year prison sentence if convicted on the perjury charges linked to Brumfield's death, which took place a day before the Danziger bridge incident.
Mitchell and Jones, who were driving their patrol car past the Ernest N. Morial Convention Center where hundreds of civilians had sought shelter, have said that Brumfield lunged at their car with "a shiny object" in his hand, prompting Mitchell to shoot the man with a shotgun, killing him.
Brumfield's widow later filed a federal civil suit against the city of New Orleans seeking damages for her husband's death. Mitchell and Jones gave sworn testimony about the circumstances of the death in connection with that suit.
Prosecutors subsequently charged the two officers with obstruction of justice and knowingly giving misleading information by claiming that Brumfield had jumped off the hood of their patrol car and lunged at Mitchell.
Brumfield's family members have said that he was trying to stop the police car to get help for people stranded in the heat without food or water after New Orleans had been flooded following the hurricane.
A forensic pathologist told the jury in the perjury case that Brumfield died from a shotgun blast in the back from a weapon fired at close range.
Pathologist James Traylor Jr., who performed an autopsy on Brumfield, used anatomical diagrams and a mannequin to show the jury where the gunshot struck the victim, and said the shooter could not have been more than two feet away when the gun was fired.
"It was a close-range shotgun blast to the back," Traylor told the jury, adding that the wound killed Brumfield.
(Editing by Corrie MacLaggan and Cynthia Johnston)